Synopsis: In the aftermath of the Great Plague and amidst the subsequent witch-hunts against women, a young widow grapples with the tragic death of her husband in a society completely consumed by fear and death and faces her own inner demons as the devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.
Stars: Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington, Joe Anderson, Suzanne Magowan, Ian Whyte, Callum Goulden, Sarah Lambie, Leon Ockenden
Director: Neil Marshall
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (1/10)
Review: In the early 2000’s there was the real possibility that UK director Neil Marshall could have made a significant play for the big leagues. Achieving good notices for his first feature film in 2002, the cult werewolf creature feature Dog Soldiers, he followed that up in 2005 with the bona fide classic in the horror genre, The Descent. I vividly remember seeing that majestically haunting movie after hearing the advance buzz and the reports on how truly scary it was and wondering during the screening who was screeching so loudly at the numerous terrifying moments…only to realize it was me. Marshall clearly was gaining momentum. Of course, Hollywood came calling and if the next films weren’t all that creative, they weren’t bad but didn’t make a dent at the box office. Retreating to television for the next decade, Marshall wouldn’t make another film until the failed attempt to reboot the Hellboy franchise and, well, all know how that turned out.
Imagine my surprise to see Marshall’s name attached to an indie horror film like The Reckoning and you better believe I was all over that screening opportunity. Something about the film’s subject matter (witch hunts around the Great Plauge near the end of the 17th century) seemed to fit perfectly with Marshall’s oeuvre and I wondered if this wouldn’t be a fine return to form for the director that clearly had a sense for visuals, just not one for picking the right scripts to make those visuals come to life. Then I started to get more information and my hopes started to sink. The film was co-written, executive produced, and starring Charlotte Kirk. Charlotte Kirk is Marshall’s fiancé. Oh. It started to make sense why he’d be involved in a smaller picture like this but I still held out some hope it wouldn’t be a mere vanity project for the lovebirds to hang out together and get paid for it. After The Reckoning is released to the public on February 5th, I’ll be amazed if they ever tie the knot.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie so ineptly terrible as The Reckoning and I’ve seen a lot of ‘em. My tolerance for these genre offerings are high so when I tell you I seriously considered stopping this on several occasions and pretending the link never arrived in my inbox, take it to heart at how poor this experience can be for you if you get a notion to explore the horrors that Kirk, Marshall, and company have worked up for you. (By the way, I would never do that…pretend a link never arrived so I wouldn’t have to review it — I’m in it for the long haul no matter what!) Whatever promise of jangled nerves was held in the very real story of women falsely accused of witchery and subjected to brutal tortures and death is replaced by your own fear of never escaping the dungeon of repulsive imagery, sets so cheap a brisk wind would knock them over, and acting so horrendous it makes a chicken in a cage playing Tic-Tac-Toe look like Chekov.
You have to hand it to Marshall, it takes bravery to follow-up an extended title sequence that alternates between the production credits and a slow motion shot of an unknown family being forcibly removed from their home with another drawn out scene showing how new mother Grace Haverstock (Kirk, Non-Stop) has come to bury her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson, The Grey) after he winds up at the end of a noose. I can’t verify this and I didn’t write it down, but I’m fairly certain Marshall acts as his own editor so these were his decisions and it gets the movie off to a glacial pace, hobbling it narratively from the get go. Without a man to provide for her, Grace asks the owner of their land for an extension on their rent but he’ll only consider a different kind of payment that she isn’t willing to fu…I mean, fork over.
In those days, there was nothing worse than a man with a hurt pride and finger to point out the latest woman that rejected his advances as a witch. Before long, Grace is in prison surrounded by pestilence and growing visions of a horned devil that prefers her without clothes and greased up, if possible. No one will step up to save Grace, especially when she comes before the Witchfinder General Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee, Event Horizon) and his assistant Ursula (Suzanne Magowan) a former accused witch burned at the stake by Moorcroft that survived and now works to help him do the same to other women. (Y’know, a real girls girl. Gee, thanks Ursula!) Though he doesn’t know it, Grace has history with Moorcroft and as his methods of extracting a confession out of her grow more devious, she plots a revenge that has been long in the making.
In the honor of full transparency and giving the little credit I can offer, there’s a rather interesting story going on in The Reckoning that I thought could have been explored/exploited to a far greater effect had the filmmakers access to better, well, everything. It’s the production across the board that makes the film sink like a stone and stink like a sore. I’m sure Kirk and co-screenwriters Marshall and Edward Evers-Swindell must have done SOME kind of research in putting this storyline together, it’s just a waste of a story with such silly execution. If you don’t outright laugh the first time you see the small “town” in the middle of a green field I applaud you. It looks like someone cut out a castle from a children’s book, scanned it, and photoshopped it onto a postcard. Really terrible.
If you ever wondered how long eye make-up stayed on in the 17th century, especially after being lashed multiple times, take a look around the halfway mark of the film and see Kirk’s nigh-perfect eyeliner and mascara. She’s just been whipped within an inch of her life but her face looks gorgeous, darling. In fact, though her body is put through the wringer (one scene in particular is so far over the line of good taste I’m not surprised it took over a year for the film to find a distributor) her lipstick and foundation game are always on point. The rest of the cast are best left unmentioned in the hopes they will all either go on with their lives in a different chosen profession or find better projects next time. The only one I will call out is Magowan who is a bright spot as the only character that appears increasingly conflicted (at least adequately) as the brutality against Grace goes on. She’s obviously been through something similar and lived to tell about it. Her burned flesh is covered by black robes and her face is hidden by a fabric veil but just through her eyes we can see the worry grow. It’s a lively performance in an otherwise deathly film.
Absolutely the lowest of the low where film is concerned, the only consolation is that Marshall may eventually make a comeback on a smaller scale and leave the feature length films alone. His television work has been impressive in the name recognition but sporadic in terms of occurrence. It’s because of these types of blunders that sully his once-good name. I won’t even go into all the mess surrounding Kirk (Google her and do investigate yourself) but starring in this one awful movie isn’t going to do any more damage at this point in time. The final question of The Reckoning is more or less if you’re willing to sit through nearly two bodaciously bad hours of this nonsense.